Life lines

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  February 12, 2008

They’ve had a similarly rough go at getting their music out and into the playlists of what could easily be legions of happy fans. When I enquire about their previous arrangements with Baltimore’s Monitor Records, Roston asks whether I’m familiar with the story of the Crucifixion. Their new songs are slated to be self-released on-line, in the hope of finding someone to press the vinyl — with any luck, in pink, like their last LP on Cardboard Records. For now, some new stuff has been posted to their MySpace page, judiciously filed under “Indie.”

Perhaps the biggest difference between Big Bear and a lot of hardcore is the most difficult one to make out. Compared with the “me versus you” dynamic and anti-everything-ism so frequently found at the louder end of the rock continuum, Big Bear’s lyrics are about uncertainty, apprehension, longing, and, most important, setting right what’s gone wrong. They’re not aggressively anti-suppressant; they’re oddly anti-depressant. “I don’t like that ‘you do this’ attitude,” says Bonds. “It would make it seem like I’m unaware of my own faults, and it just divides people.”

In any given Big Bear song, the lyrics could stand on their own; they resort to the repetitive wordplay of Gertrude Stein, the stark essentialism of George Oppen, and, as each song is titled only with a number, the tracty, impersonal allure of Wittgenstein. But when fitted to the music’s unchartable shapes, the words gain new life. Taunting two-syllable clusters carve through a combusting storm of guitar noise, a prepositional phrase rises and plummets, single words lock into relentlessly crashing waves of what sure feels like dissonance but isn’t, not exactly. Despite their aggression, the songs are peppered with questions, cautions, little doubts. Bonds’s words are utterly atypical, repeatedly refreshing, and brazenly up front with their esoteric lines of inquiry. No other band in town can fuse abstraction with such brute realism.

“If I were to get honest about it, I think I’m addressing myself,” says Bonds. “I think I’m constantly inviting myself to feel safe being close to people, to put myself out there and be vulnerable. And I’m hoping that if I extend myself that invitation, others will invite themselves along too.”

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